I voice the anger of the masses, says AAP’s star campaigner Bhagwant Mann
Bhagwant Mann, the earthy comedian known for his stinging social satire and who shot to political limelight when he won the parliamentary election from Sangrur with the highest-ever victory margin, is the face of the resurgent Aam Aadmi Party, which is hoping for a Delhi redux in Punjab.Updated: Jan 30, 2017 21:17 IST
He is inarguably the most watched politico on the social media in Punjab. Bhagwant Mann, the earthy comedian known for his stinging social satire, shot to political limelight when he won the parliamentary election from Sangrur with the highest-ever victory margin. Today he is the face of the resurgent Aam Aadmi Party, which is hoping for a Delhi redux in Punjab. The star campaigner, who’s addressed around 180 rallies in the state over the last two months, takes a break in his home-cum-office-on-the-wheels to tell Manraj Grewal Sharma about what makes him click with the masses.
HT: Why did you join AAP?
Mann: I wanted to change the system and couldn’t go with traditional parties. So when Manpreet Badal approached me, I joined his People’s Party of Punjab. Arvind ji met me in February 2014 and said he wanted to join hands with the PPP. But Manpreet wanted to go with the Congress. My idol Bhagat Singh didn’t get along with the Congress even before the Independence; how could I choose them? So I joined AAP.
Why do you wear this yellow ‘pagdi’?
Why does AAP not name you as the CM candidate?
I was just a little over 18 when I became famous with my first CD in 1992. As Bhagwant Mann, I command fans all over the world. As a politician, I am only Sangrur MP. In the party, I am like any other worker. If they tell me to paste posters, I will do that.
Why do you bad-mouth media?
No, I don’t. I have no grouse against any journalist, only against media houses. Media can get away with any ‘badtamizi’ (insolence). ‘Ham se to maafi ek minute mein mana lete ho’ (mediapersons demand apology from us within a minute)... Social media has made it easy for us to connect with people. My FB reach is 1.72 crore a week.
Are you confident of winning Jalalabad, considering it’s a three-cornered contest?
Sukhbir led by over 50,000 votes in the last elections. The reverse could be true this time.
Satire is fine, but do you bring any managerial skills to the table?
Management? We believe in micro-management... The party monitors candidates on an hourly basis. When a candidate falls into the red zone, he is asked to take remedial steps. We don’t have ‘paisa’ zone, ‘sharaab’ zone or ‘chitta’ zone.
Do you have a practicable plan for Punjab?
Our blueprint was born out of Punjab dialogues; it wasn’t written in a living room. We went to farmers, industrialists, the people who are suffering, for solutions. For farmers, we will implement the Swaminathan report, which says the minimum support price (MSP) for a crop should be 50% more than the input cost. Though the Centre hasn’t implemented it yet, we will cover up the difference.
But Punjab has empty coffers. Where will you get the money from?
We will plug the leaks. Delhi, for instance, saved ₹3.5 crore from five bridges. There is so much leakage in excise... the sand mafia. ‘In logon ki neetiyaan to achchi hain, neeyat achchi nahin’ (ruling parties have good policies, but bad intentions).
There are rumours that AAP will join hands with the Congress to come to power?
On the contrary, the Congress is in cahoots with Akalis. Capt Amarinder stalled the CBI inquiry against (Bikram Singh) Majithia when drug dealer Bhola took his name. Badal claims he is fighting Capt but he has not pursued any case against him or his coterie. Even the cases against Capt’s adviser BIS Chahal were buried. It’s an open secret that Capt saved Badal Government when the BJP threatened to pull out.
Do people flock your rallies to see Bhagwant Mann, the comedian?
No, I draw crowds because I speak the truth. I voice the anger of the masses. I say what they are thinking. That is why they connect with me. In the last 67 days, I have addressed almost 180 rallies, 14 along with Arvind ji. Last Wednesday, I addressed meetings in 27 villages. Look at the black circles under my eyes. I am making do with three-four hours of sleep every day. I virtually live in this vehicle.
Your detractors often ridicule your innings in the parliament, what with allegations of coming drunk to the Lok Sabha. You were also barred from the House for breaching security?
I made (BJP leader) Rajiv Pratap Rudy take back his words on my very first day in the parliament. I have asked so many meaningful questions. Capt Amarinder has the worst record of attendance in the parliament. As for allegations of coming drunk, these are just allegations. How come the person sitting next to me couldn’t smell (alcohol in my breath), but suspended AAP MP Harinder Khalsa could? Coming to the security breach, I was live on FB when we happened to approach the security. Come February 5, I will be back in the Parliament because I am the voice of Punjab there.